Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US oil price below zero for first time in history
- Four more EU nations back a green post-coronavirus recovery
- Renewables agency charts path to zero-carbon energy system by 2050
- Summer's bushfires released more CO2 than Australia does in a year
- This Earth Day, we should repent
- Yes, climate change can affect extreme weather – but there is still a lot to learn
- Are we really heading for a greener future?
- Drought less predictable under declining future snowpack
- A holistic analysis of passenger travel energy and greenhouse gas intensities
- Eurasian Ice Sheet collapse was a major source of Meltwater Pulse 1A 14,600 years ago
Many publications worldwide report that the US oil price fell below zero for the first time in history yesterday, with the FT, the i newspaper and the Daily Telegraph carrying the story on their front pages. Driven by a fall in demand created by the coronavirus pandemic, the price plunge meant “producers [were] paying buyers to take [oil] off their hands”, the FT reports. It adds: “West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, traded as low as -$40.32 a barrel in a day of chaos in oil markets. The settlement price on Monday was -$37.63, compared to $18.27 on Friday.” The FT describes the price collapse as a “blow to [US President] Donald Trump”, who “has gone to great lengths to protect the oil sector, including backing moves by Opec [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] and Russia to cut production and pledging support for the industry”. The price of US oil rose back above zero this morning, according to a second FT story. The Daily Telegraph adds that “such little oil is being used that the country is expected to run out of storage space within a fortnight”. Reuters reports that the Trump administration is to offer up empty barrels from its emergency oil stockpile as space dries up. The Hill reports that the administration is also “floating the idea” of paying oil companies to leave oil in the ground. Speaking to the Guardian, Brett Fleishman, from climate campaign group at 350.org, says: “We are experiencing an unparalleled upending in our economies. And it is time for the fossil fuel industry to recognise that, from now on, the cheapest and best place to store oil is in the ground.” Bloomberg notes that prices are low enough for climate activists to purchase pumping operations and “shut them down for good”. “Whether or not they should is an open question,” it adds. Axios reports that the plunge doesn’t mean people will be paid “to fill up their tanks”. This is because there are “several other layers of costs, including refinement, transportation and various state taxes” – meaning gasoline prices are unlikely to be affected, Axios says. In an explainer, the FT notes that US volatility will continue for as long as there is a mismatch between demand and production of oil. “Until the imbalance is fixed, prices will remain low and volatile, crippling the sector and forcing widespread distress on producers,” it says. Politico, Time and BBC News also have the story. For Vox, David Roberts argues that the collapse proves that coronavirus stimulus money “would be wasted on fossil fuels”.
Climate Home News reports that Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta have now joined 13 other EU nations in backing plans for a climate-focused post-coronavirus recovery. The news means “most climate and environment ministers in the 27-nation EU now back a call to put the European Green Deal at the heart of a post-coronavirus recovery”, CHN says. The letter, now signed by 17 EU climate ministers, says: “The focus is presently on fighting the pandemic and its immediate consequences. We should, however, begin to prepare ourselves to rebuild our economy and to introduce the necessary recovery plans to bring renewed, sustainable progress and prosperity back to Europe and its citizens…While doing so, we must not lose sight of the persisting climate and ecological crisis. Building momentum to fight this battle has to stay high on the political agenda.” EurActiv reports that Austria has become the second EU country to end its use of coal after Belgium in 2016. Austria officially closed its last coal plant last Friday, EurActiv says.
Meanwhile, a second CHN story explores which countries are choosing to bail out “big polluters” such as aviation, coal and oil and gas. The report looks at relief offered to polluters in the US, China, Russia, Canada and Australia, among others. The Guardian also looks into polluters that could make “billions” from the bailouts. A second Guardian story looks into the specific lobbying actions of aviation, the motor industry and fossil fuels, among other industries.
The world could chart a path to a fully decarbonised energy system by the middle of the century and revive economies hit by the coronavirus if they tailor stimulus packages to boost clean energy technologies, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) covered by Reuters and others. In its inaugural annual Global Renewables Outlook, IRENA said choices by governments would help decide whether the pandemic served to delay or accelerate a low-carbon transition, Reuters reports. “Governments don’t have all the money they need. So they have to prioritise,” IRENA director general Francesco La Camera tells Reuters. “The question is where they are going to prioritise. And we have demonstrated that renewables are the best way to produce good jobs, the best way to impact GDP.” The report is also covered by the i newspaper and the Guardian.
Australia’s 2019-20 bushfires likely released 830m tonnes of CO2 – far higher than the country’s usual average annual emissions, the Guardian reports. “If compared with international emissions, it suggests the Australian temperate forest bushfires between September and February would rank sixth on a list of polluting nations, behind only China, the US, India, Russia and Japan,” the Guardian says. The estimate comes from the federal government, who said they were optimistic that forests would “reabsorb most of the released CO2 in the years ahead”, says the Guardian. “Other scientists have been less optimistic about the capacity of Australian forests to reabsorb all emissions released during bushfires, warning under normal conditions it could take decades for enough regrowth to occur and the climate crisis was increasing the risk of repeat fires within shorter timeframes,” it adds. The story is also in the Australian. [For a refresher on the bushfires, see Carbon Brief’s coverage at the time.] Elsewhere, BBC News reports that wildfire is starting to return to Marsden Moor, a peatland in West Yorkshire, a year after a four-day long fire repeated across the region. However, the “threat of fire persists”, BBC News adds.
In the New York Times, former UN official Hugh Roberts writes that the 50th annual anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow is time for humans to “take responsibility” for climate change. He says: “It is time, then, to consider a new kind of declaration. A declaration of responsibility, acknowledging what we have done and recognising we were mistaken: a simple expression of collective responsibility for what is wrong…This declaration may sound negative, but the greatest challenge is to dispel the illusions that led us into such danger.” Elsewhere in the New York Times, reporter John Schwartz profiles the “radical” man who founded Earth Day 50 years ago, Denis Hayes.
In the Conversation, leading attribution scientist Friederike Otto explores what is still not known about how climate change is affecting extreme weather events. Otto highlights Carbon Brief’s map of how climate change is affecting extreme weather around the world, which was recently updated to include studies published up until the end of 2019.
For the Times, columnist Hugo Rifkind says that “while lockdown has given us cleaner air and good intentions it is also lessening the chances of global co-operation”. He says: “The point is…that however clear our skies are today, we have already failed to be green when times were good, and it will only be harder when they are not. In other words, I’m afraid we’ve got a fight on our hands. Yes, another one.”
The reduction of snowpack in the western US will make predicting droughts more difficult in future, a new study says. Using “downscaled hydrologic simulations from 28 climate model projections”, the researchers “show that by mid-century (2036–2065), 69% of historically snowmelt-dominated areas of the western US see a decline in the ability of snow to predict seasonal drought, increasing to 83% by late century (2070–2099)”. A second paper in the same journal finds that declining snowpack will have major impacts on irrigated agriculture around the world – particularly in the “hotspots” of “high-mountain Asia (the Tibetan Plateau), Central Asia, western Russia, western US and the southern Andes”. Commenting on both studies, a News & Views article says that “climate change will decrease both the amount of snow that falls and the timing of when it melts, thus shifting when rivers and streams have more water to earlier in the year”.
The energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) intensities of different forms of transport that are powered by internal combustion engines is “remarkably similar”, a new study suggests. Analysing four major modes of passenger travel – light-duty vehicles, buses, railroads and aircraft – the researchers find that the levels of occupancy explains about 70-90% of the variation in energy and GHG intensities. The “remaining 10–30% is explained by differences in trip distances and other factors such as technology and operating conditions”, the study adds.
The partial collapse of the Eurasian ice sheet substantially contributed to a major rise in global sea levels known as “Meltwater Pulse 1A” as the Earth exited its most recent Ice Age, a new study suggests. Using sediment cores from the Norwegian Sea, the researchers show that marine-based sectors of the Eurasian ice sheet collapsed around 14,600 years ago, losing enough ice to raise sea levels by 4.5-7.9 metres over 500 years. This potentially explains “up to half of Meltwater Pulse 1A”, the authors say, and “shows that massive marine-based ice sheets can collapse in as little as 300–500 years”. An accompanying News & Views piece says that “such a rapid collapse of massive ice hints at the vulnerability of Earth’s remaining ice sheets”.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.